Two Hearts One Beat – Chapter 1


Side A – Nia

Nia stretched as the morning sun crept gently across her bed. In the blissful haze of a good night’s sleep everything felt soft and wonderful. Then she opened her eyes.

Her scream came out as a choked gurgle.

Her hands were wrong.

And her arms too.

And all of the rest of her.

And the bed she was laying in.

Everything. Everything was wrong.

Nia was a daughter of the forest, an elf of the Darkwoods. Her hands were thin and delicate enough to play a lyre of gossamer moonbeams. They were a shade of bronze she’d always loved because it marked her as part of her mother’s clan. They weren’t grey as slate. They weren’t rough and huge and gigantic.

She stared at the alien body she wore. She tried to wake up for real, but the crisp air she breathed and the beating of the mighty heart in her chest told her that whatever had happened overnight, whatever had left her so changed, was far too solid and real to be a dream.

It wasn’t only her body which had changed either. The room around her was different as well. Gone was her family’s treetop bower with the songs and magic of her ancestors woven through it. In its place was a small stone hut, it’s tiny windows allowing just a few shafts of the morning light to filter through.

Fighting back panic and confusion, Nia cast her thoughts wide, trying to grasp any idea that could explain what was going on. The fading memories of her dream offered some tantalizing hints, but the details evaporated the more she tried to recall them.

Stonelings are grey. She was grey. She was a stoneling. It wasn’t much but it was somewhere to start.

The memory of her lessons about the peoples of her world came back as payment for the long hours she’d spent with her studies when she wished to be doing anything else but immersed in dry old books. Stonelings were one of the giantkin. People as at home in the heights and fissures of the Sky’s Reach mountain range as her folk were among the glades and dells of the Darkwood.

“Where am I?” Nia asked aloud, trying to recall how she’d arrived in the stone hut even if nothing else made sense. The image of reaching towards a still pond that reflected an endless expanse of stars rose in her mind’s eye. It was a fading snippet from her dream she’d caught before it could vanish. “Great, but not exactly helpful,” she said and knocked the side of her head to jar loose a better idea.

That didn’t produce the results she’d hoped for, so she turned her attention to the inside of the hut.

It wasn’t a prison. The door was barred on the inside and prisons tend to have it be the reverse. Beyond that there wasn’t a lot she could tell about place from her first glance at it.

The inner space was divided into three rooms; the bedroom Nia woke in, which seemed large enough to fit one bed and a trio of large reed baskets; a central living area with a cooking fire on the far wall beside a counter and table that had only a single chair near it; and a water closet, which was surprising, she hadn’t known the Stonelings could create indoor plumbing without the magics the Darkwood elves used to conjure and disperse clean and dirty water.

Nia was trying to figure out what her next move should be when a great hammering on the door to the hut grabbed both her attention and her breath.

“Yasgrid! Get your lazy butt up!” a masculine voice as deep as the roots of the earth said. “We need to get the drums in place before the everyone gets to the Calling!”

Nia had no idea who Yasgrid was, or what ‘the Calling’ might be, but when she turned her head to frantically search for clues, she saw a woman standing beside her who hadn’t been there a moment earlier.

“Oh, this is not good,” the woman said and Nia could only nod in agreement.

Side B – Yasgrid

Yasgrid’s day began in a very similar fashion to Nia’s. The morning sun touched them both at the same time, and they both awoke to the same disorienting lack of familiarity in the bodies they wore and the beds they woke in. Yasgrid had no special insight into the predicament she faced, or extra years to draw on for wisdom compared to Nia, but her heart managed to remain calm.

She wasn’t an elf. She’d never been delicate. As a shatter drummer, delicacy wasn’t a trait she’d ever tried to cultivate. Despite that, the body she wore was as frail as a flower and light as the breeze. It was an alien experience but not a wholly unwelcome one.

She knew of the Darkwood Elves, at least enough to recognize body she was in. The shaped wood dwelling around her was new and unexpected but it seemed to fit the frail form she was wrapped in.

She let her gaze linger on the incredible craftsmanship that had worked the walls of the room from living wood. It was inspiring work, even if her natural inclinations ran more towards the weight and durability of stone. The flowing wood panels around Yasgrid brought to mind the burnished glass-steel temples of the Almirai people of the Eastern Seas. Her people didn’t have much contact with the forest folk, but the Stonelings were far from the savages outsiders often mistook them for being.

Yasgrid’s education had covered every land the Stonelings had ever visited, both through learning the songs passed down through the generations as well as reading the journals the first travelers to each shore had left behind.

She’d dreamed of traveling to distant lands herself one day, of meeting people the likes of which no Stoneling had ever seen before and leaving behind a song of her own for future generations to remember her by.

That thought floated to her mind as she took in the strange shape of her hands, and felt the sharp contours of her face and the ticklish points of her long ears.

This would be a song like no other, if she could manage to return to her people and her own body.

Before she could do that however, she needed to understand what strange enhancement had befallen her.

She rose from the bed of a living flower she’d been sleeping in and was struck by how open to the sky the bedroom was.

Whispering through the branches and carried on the winds she could feel currents of old magic, woven and chanted and sung into being over the centuries with thousands of voices layering onto them a love of hearth and home. The weather posed no danger to the forest folk. It loved them as much as their trees did. Even the sun seemed to shine with a gentle light as it began its steady rise towards the highest point of its arc.

Yasgrid froze.

The sun was rising towards its highest point. Unless the whole world had changed, that meant that it was still the day of the Calling. The day she’d spent the last year practicing for. The day she was going to miss because the Darkwood was nowhere near her home and as an elf she had no hope of joining the other drummers.

From far away she heard a clamorous knocking. Falfhid was smashing her door, just like he always did when she was late.

She blinked in surprise and confusion, and turned to find an elvish woman standing beside her where no one had been standing a moment earlier.

Yasgrid’s vision bifurcated for a moment and she was standing in her own hut with the woman. Some inner sense told her that only the elf was present in Yasgrid’s stone hut though. Yasgrid herself was still stuck in a leafy bower in a forest farther from her home than she could could possibly travel before the sun reached its zenith.

“Oh this is not good,” was all that she could say as the other woman nodded in agreement.